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Riding the Wave of Sports in Building Communities

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The game is all that matters during those 90 minutes or six rounds. A sentiment that is echoed all over the globe, in every popular sport. Sports are an essential part of the lives of millions. Whether a participant or a spectator, it lends a sense of belonging and companionship unmatched by anything else. It has the power to shape communities by giving people a reason to come together.

Striking friendship even with the opponents

Except in sports developing friendships with the rival comes naturally; the passion shared for the same sport is more significant than any regional, race or boundary divide. As someone who has moved across continents and shifted schools and homes a few times, sports have been fundamental to my lived experiences. Transitions were easier and friendships quicker because I could make connections through my love for sports. Playing football competitively and training rigorously with my team has created a sense of camaraderie that is simply unmatched. The most incredible lessons I’ve learned have come from tournaments played in areas touted as dangerous or towns and villages famous for sports animosity. You go into games facing intolerant hurls that can get your morale down, but after the rounds, one ends up admiring players and striking friendships with the opposition.

Which side are you on?  

On the way back home, on a 12-hour bus ride, from one such game in Pathankot, Punjab, I started thinking deeply about how sports shape us as a community. It brings us together and exposes us to ugly behaviours like discrimination and intolerance that divide our spirits. I had never quite understood the seriousness of the divide until this thought crossed my mind, and I started observing it in the games I watched in person and on television across the globe. 

I observed that sports could shatter as powerfully as it can inspire because of how relatable sports can be for people from different walks of life. It has the power to unite a country, as was when Nelson Mandela appeared on the field, donning the famous Springboks jersey, inspiring the white-dominated stadium to get on its feet and applaud him. But it also has the power to divide and create tension across the planet, as it did when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before NFL games, irking even the President of the United States.  

If friendships owing to a love of sports have been exemplary in the past, the growing animosity among rivals is a cause of concern. Has winning become more important than the game? What about the adrenaline rush of playing the sport together as a team huddling to make or change strategies? Is it not integral to sport itself? I feel there are very fine lines that may answer all of the above.

A game between two rivals makes not only the players on the pitch feel like enemies, but the fans of both sides watching the game all over the world feel the same way. India and Pakistan cricket matches can be cited as examples, and cricket for Indians seems no less than a religion.

It is unfortunate to see the spirit of sportsmanship being taken over by the feeling of discrimination. This divide often leads to players receiving racist abuse from opposing fans and, on some occasions, even their supporters, as recently evidenced by the abuse faced by the English football team’s black players after the Euro finals in July 2021. Marcus Rashford missed a penalty leading to unrelenting trolling on social media, while a mural created in honour of him was also vandalized. 

The incidents raise further questions on the role of sports in perpetuating stereotypes and encouraging violence amongst communities.

Combating racism and discrimination in sports is extremely difficult, and no measures have been entirely successful. The English Premier League has established campaigns like the “Kick It Out” movement and the “No Room For Racism” campaign to raise awareness about players’ abuse and encourage fans to behave more civilly. Activities such as these take a while to pick up and still may never prove to be as effective as intended. But it is a start. 

It is hard to determine how the future will unfold regarding spectatorship issues. The spectators’ interest in watching a particular sport has much to do with the sport’s popularity. Hockey is our national game, yet not so popular among viewers! Stakes are high for India’s men’s cricket team, whereas the women’s cricket team lags far behind. All discriminations of different kinds, varied reasons to divide, and the only reason needed to unite is your love for a sport. Let sports do the job it’s meant to do-bring millions of people together to create a sense of belonging.

 

The article is written by Sidhaant Palkhiwala, a grade 12 student studying in The Shri Ram School Moulsari, Gurgaon, India.

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